Zero Waste Heroes

There are 5.8 million people in the UK living in poverty right now. Yet each day, over 14 million meals are thrown out by the food industry – enough to eradicate hunger in the UK entirely.

Several weeks ago at Britain’s Personal Best I met Lotti, a women who, along with a wonderful team at PlanZheroes, is on a mission to do exactly that. This is her story.

Lotti’s Story:

As children, Lotti and her sisters’ home life was very comfortable. Her parents were Austrian Aristocrats and they lived on a large estate in Slovenia, until World War II shook the continent, changing their lives forever.

“Duty and serving your neighbour were of great importance to my parents. When I was 17 years old, I was sent to become a nurse in the Second World War. I nursed for three years in the German army.”

After the end of the war in 1949, her family’s estates were taken by the communists and Lotti and her sisters found themselves penniless in Italy, without a home and without their Mother who had died in 1945.

Never having had to enter a kitchen before, let alone prepare a meal, the girls didn’t know how to cook and had no money to buy food.

“It was awful to see my younger sisters so hungry. At that time my Father sent them to school with an empty military-style lunch container. After the school lunch they would empty all the left overs from the other school children’s plates to reheat and eat at night. We all chewed sunflower seeds. My sisters often cried.”

Lotti managed to get a job at the British military hospital in Trieste. She would take porridge oats home and a large hard ball of Horlicks which they made last for as long as they could. With her newfound appreciation of hunger, Lotti began to organise distribution of leftovers from the ward to the hungry who queued at the back entrance to the hospital, it made no sense to her that it should go to waste when people were in need.

In 1947 Lotti married an Englishman and moved to London. Although leaving the post-war hardships behind, to this day she retains her fear of hunger.

“I am never without food when I go out, even if I am just going to the post office.”

img credit: Chris Devers

Greatly affected by the amount of food waste in the modern world, Lotti can’t understand how so many people still go hungry.

It was with London Citizens that she found fellow enthusiasts with whom she could establish PlanZheroes in 2010. In 2011 the project was recognised by the Greater London Auhority and Lotti was voted a London Leader.

The Problem:

In the UK each year, the retail sector alone produces an estimated 1.6 million tonnes of food waste. Add to this an estimated 600,000 tonnes of food-waste from the hospitality sector, about two-thirds of which could have been eaten with better management, and you get 2.2 million tonnes of food being thrown out per year, the equivalent weight of 14 million meals per day!

PlanZheroes estimate one third of this waste is surplus food; food still in consumable condition but isn’t or cannot be sold. Why then, is it not given away?

“My research showed that food businesses were only too willing to donate but did not know how.”

The Solution:

PlanZheroes’’ action plan and underlying idea is rooted in a simple principle: Community.

What PlanZheroes have facilitated is a platform where food outlets and small charities and community groups can connect via an interactive map, together reducing surplus waste, and helping those in need.

“We believe there is always somewhere a food business can donate their surplus food so it can be distributed to those nearby who need it.”

As of today, 150 donors, including caterers, bakers and hotels, are solidly linked to a similar numbers of recipients, ranging from church charities, school breakfast clubs and soup kitchens, sharing food, which would otherwise be headed straight for the bin.

All PlanZheroes members are volunteers, helping to spread stories of success and possibilities to inspire more businesses and charities to connect with one another. At present the team are working on producing a new map and mobile app, making it easier to find where and when food becomes available. They’re also working on a way to quantify the food offered to monitor and measure impact on waste prevention and social change, health and wellbeing.

Image Courtesy of Greg Funell

Lotti’s Personal Best:

The journey’s well on the way and Lotti is determined to reach her Personal Best Goal; To engage 90 volunteers and to help inspire and build 900 connections between businesses and charities before her 90th birthday next year. I have complete faith in Lotti’s pledge, and I hope this post will raise some awareness to inspire more zero waste heroes.

There is 2.2 million tonnes of food going to waste each year… but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Interested in learning more about PlanZheroes, signing up or volunteering? Click here.